Please indulge me a while on movies, there is good reason for this post, and wonderful book news towards the end…..In a couple of weeks it would have been the 100th birthday of the late great Peter Cushing, gentleman of horror and fantasy cinema and actor behind many of the most iconic characters to have graced the silver screen.
Despite having visited Bray Studios a couple of times in the past, sadly it was after Mr Cushing’s passing in 1994 aged 81, so although I have met many who have worked with him, I was never lucky enough to meet the man himself.
That said, there are no other actors who have, or I doubt ever will, have such an impact on my movie fandom.
Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who, Van Helsing, Dr Frankenstein, Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars – Peter Cushing’s roles encompassed so many of the great movies in the last century, and he did it all without fanfare, without scandal, without ever cheapening anything he did.
Born in 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, his acting career started in 1936, his marriage to Helen Beck was in 1943 and he remained working hard and devoted to Helen until her passing in 1971 from emphysema. It was a loss he never recovered from, but that loss, and his own being diagnosed with cancer in 1982 and told he had 15 months to live, did not stop Cushing the actor from continuing to work.
His last film was Biggles, released in 1986, bringing his total body of work to 91 movies !
Peter and Helen Cushing lived in the Kent seaside town of Whitstable for most of their life together, buying a home there in 1959, and the town has remained a place of great and clear affection for the man and his career.
Although there are many events taking place in the town over the Centenary weekend (25th-26th May) when we made a family trip there last weekend there is already plenty to see and do – I defy you to not be moved by the love of the man displayed there.
First stop on arrival at Whitstable station was for breakfast, and where better than to visit the Wetherspoons pub ‘The Peter Cushing’ at 13-16 Oxford Street, with its great decor and themed art deco style reflecting the building’s former life as the Oxford Cinema. The added decorations to the lobby area and the upcoming themed fancy dress event are all as tribute to Mr Cushing , along with handpainted images and signwriting by local artist Mike Hutchins.
After a great and filling breakfast, we headed along to the Whitstable Museum & Gallery to take a look around and to check out their superb and informative Peter Cushing at 100 exhibition. Filled with movie props, stills, posters and behind the scenes info (did you know that in many of the scenes where he played alongside Darth Vader that Cushing wore carpet slippers?) the exhibition and museum as a whole is well worth the £3 entrance fee. And you’ll also see the other side of Peter Cushing there too, the artist and craftsman, with a collection of his paintings and his theatre set models – all an excellent insight into the man and how he would fill every moment between takes on films.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed within the exhibition, but you can get a real taste of the place in this local Meridian News report feature or check out the website at www.canterbury-museums.co.uk
We then took a stroll down to the harbour and the beach, taking a seat at ‘Cushing’s View’ and noting other places where his name had been adopted in the town.
When it was time to eat later in the day there really was only one choice, ‘The Tudor Tea Rooms/Restaurant’ where Mr Cushing ate most days following the loss of his beloved wife. His regular table is still there, against a pillar where he’d be less bothered by passing onlookers, and a small plaque sits now on that pillar dedicated to the great man as a much loved friend of the family. Alongside the fireplace sits a small display of memorabilia including the order of service of his funeral service in the town, a sketch of him and a handwritten poem he’d written to thank the staff at the Restaurant. Full of atmosphere, charm and great food, I’d highly recommend a stop here whenever close by.
Fed well, we headed off for another walkabout and discovered the gem that is ‘The Horsebridge Centre’.
Not only are they currently running a movie themed exhibition ‘The Art of Horror’, but they are also having a horror special effects make-up workshop for kids on Saturday 25th May and a screening of the Hammer Horror Classic ‘Brides of Dracula’ starring, yes you’ve guessed it, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing !
All in all, I think it’s clear to see just what a massive effect this mild mannered gentleman of horror cinema had on the town of Whitstable and it’s something that certainly looks set to continue.
As I mentioned at the beginning, there are also books – two brand new and very exciting books in fact.
I’ll be reviewing both shortly.
The first is a fictional novella from Stephen Volk (writer of Ghostwatch and Afterlife). ‘Whitstable’ from Spectral Press sounds like a perfect tribute to the great man and will be launched at Harbour Books in the town on Saturday 25th May from 5pm-6.30pm, tickets are £6 and are available from www.whit-lit.co.uk
Here’s a summary of that title, which is available to order from amazon HERE:
A boy approaches him and, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer movies, asks for his help. Because he believes his mother’s boyfriend is a vampire…
“Not only a gripping story but a vivid vignette about one of Britain’s best loved actors.” Hellnotes
“This will engross and enthrall all Hammer fans and those who adore and revere Cushing. It brings his screen persona vividly to life in a modern context when the monsters are all too real.” Tony Earnshaw, author of An Actor And a Rare One: Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Beating the Devil: The Making of ‘Night of the Demon’
“A chilling cat-and-mouse tale… Whitstable is a triumph… as fitting a tribute to the man as could be imagined.” Starburst
“A brilliantly written and finely detailed character piece with an uncomfortable undercurrent of modern day horror… so honest and human than even readers unfamiliar with Cushing will find this an extremely powerful read” HellBound Times
“Possibly the most touching tale that we have had the privilege to review… Whitstable effortlessly blurs reality and fiction in a beautifully realised tale of good versus evil… A must read; not only for fans of Cushing but lovers of great writing in general” Geek Syndicate
“The sensitivity, technical virtuosity and razor-sharp wit of the author’s storytelling make Whitstable an entertaining, emotionally resonant and insightful read… Stephen Volk is at the top of his game… An enthusiastic salute to a towering figure in British cinema, a perceptive exploration of the link between imagined and experienced horror, and one of the most gripping and original stories you’ll read this year” Andy Hedgecock (co-Fiction Editor, Interzone)
“Stephen Volk has produced a novella that works both as a gripping thriller and as a beautiful and heart-breaking tribute to one of horror’s finest stars… Very few books have actually caused tears to well up in my eyes. The love and respect that the author has for Peter Cushing is laid bare on the pages, and as a reader you cannot help but become totally immersed in this poignant tale” Jim McLeod, Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Elegant, moving and absolutely magnificent” Simon Kurt Unsworth
“Peter Cushing was my first hero, and in my opinion Stephen Volk has done something heroic by putting the man who fought onscreen monsters at the heart of a very human drama. Sad, tinged with a palpable sense of loss, beautifully written, and blessed with an unerring eye for crucial detail, Whitstable is a story to savour. If I may be so bold, I’m convinced that Peter Cushing would have approved” Gary McMahon
“The depth of feeling with this character is so strong that you may just want to reach into the pages of the book to console him… A wonderfully written and absorbing novella” Ebookwyrm
“A wonderful piece” David Pirie, author of A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema
“I loved Whitstable! It’s a beautiful love letter to a man, a genre, and an era that means so much to those of us of a certain age” Mick Garris, producer, Masters of Horror
“A genuine masterpiece… Moving, haunting and triumphant” Johnny Mains (editor, Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Books of Horror Stories)
“Simply brilliant writing… I almost pity Mr Volk, as he is now in the unenviable position of having to follow this truly inspired piece of work” Dave Brzeski, British Fantasy Society website
The second volume is Titan Books’ exhaustive look at the actor’s movies and life in “Peter Cushing – A Life in Film’ by David Miller.
From Dracula to Star Wars and beyond, Peter Cushing was an unforgettable presence in cult cinema of the fifties, sixties and seventies. He remains, 100 years after his birth, one of Britains best-loved film stars. Drawing upon conversations with Cushings friends and colleagues, and previously unpublished correspondence with Cushing himself, this is the definitive guide to his career.
Full reviews of both will follow in future posts.
So, celebrate the man and his movies, watch his films, read the books and visit his home town – you’ll be very welcome.
Every town needs a legend like Peter Cushing to look upon with such fondness and respect.